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NBA Team Previews: 2009 San Antonio Spurs Preview

Zach Sundelius

Zach Sundelius

Zach Sundelius writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.


SAN ANTONIO SPURS
By Zach Sundelius
RotoWire Editor



STATE OF THE FRANCHISE



Put simply, the Spurs are a model franchise, maintaining an astonishing level of excellence since Gregg Popovich's first full season as head coach in 1997-1998. In his 12 seasons, the Spurs have never won fewer than 53 games (except the strike-shortened season of 1998-1999), made the playoffs every year, and hoisted four championship banners. However, a few chinks in the armor began to emerge last season, brought on by the advancing age and injury problems of their superstars. Tim Duncan's knees began to show the wear and tear of 12 NBA seasons, causing his productivity to drop in the second half and contributing to the Spurs' 15-11 record to close out the year. San Antonio also played 38 games without the services of Manu Ginobili, who dealt with problems in both ankles over the course of the season. Sensing that the current window of opportunity is closing, the Spurs made a strong offseason push to surround Duncan with enough talent to make another charge at Duncan's fifth NBA title. San Antonio shipped much of its aging frontcourt to Milwaukee to acquire Richard Jefferson, an effective scorer from the wing. The Spurs also snagged free agent Antonio McDyess, who should mesh well alongside Duncan. Finally, the team shored up its bench by drafting DeJuan Blair in the second round, a remarkably cheap price to play for one of college's basketball's most effective players.


The Spurs did everything they needed to during the offseason to correct last season's deficiencies and position themselves for another deep postseason run. The one lingering problem that can't be fixed through trades or free agency is health, which will be the biggest question in the Alamo this season. Duncan and Ginobili must defy the odds and remain healthy for the offseason moves to pay off.



PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION



Tim Duncan will play his customary 30-35 minutes, though the Spurs would like him to average around 32 to minimize the pounding on his creaky knees. Duncan and Antonio McDyess will each spend time at the four and the five, since both can play either position. Matt Bonner may start ahead of McDyess some nights, but even when he comes off the bench McDyess will be good for around 30 minutes per game, with Bonner settling in around 15-20. DeJuan Blair should get around 10-15 minutes at power forward in his rookie season, and Theo Ratliff will be available to chip in 5-10 in relief of Duncan. At small forward, Richard Jefferson will log between 30-35 minutes, which will push Michael Finley down into the 10-15 range. Marcus Williams will scoop up any extra time. As long as his ankles allow, Manu Ginobili should see 25-30 minutes at the two, with Roger Mason getting about 20-25. At point guard, Tony Parker shouldered a heavy scoring load last season, but the burden should be lightened this season. He'll still get around 30-35 minutes, leaving 15-20 for backup George Hill.



PLAYER OUTLOOKS



Center







Tim Duncan: Duncan will turn 34 this season and will have played well over 900 regular season games by year's end. He's clearly starting to decline, but even a slower, older Duncan remains one of the league's elite players. His floor is much higher than most, even with the injury concerns. The biggest problem might be playing time down the stretch, since Gregg Popovich will be keen to rest Duncan as much as possible once the Spurs have a playoff berth locked up.


Theo Ratliff: Ratliff is the Spurs' fourth or fifth big man, which tells you that the frontcourt depth is in a pretty good place. He's a good insurance policy for Duncan.


Ian Mahinmi: Mahinmi has played in just six NBA games over the last two seasons and is strictly end-of-the-bench filler for the Spurs. Since San Antonio currently has 17 players on the roster, he's a candidate to be cut before the start of the season.


Dwayne Jones: Jones bounced all over last season, from Charlotte to the Turkish League to the D-League. He's another filler player who will need to fight to make the roster.






Forward





Richard Jefferson: Jefferson gives the Spurs an added scoring dimension that will make it difficult for defenses to handle all of the scorers San Antonio can put on the floor at once. With much less competition for shots in Milwaukee last season, he put up nearly 20 points per game, but that number will almost certainly drop. However, with all the defensive attention allotted to the Spurs' Big Three, Jefferson should get plenty of open looks from outside, where he averaged a career-best 1.4 three-pointers last season.


Antonio McDyess: The plan in San Antonio is to have McDyess start at power forward with Duncan sliding over to center, but the Spurs may also experiment with Matt Bonner as the starter and McDyess filling a sixth-man role. He showed last year as both a starter and a reserve that he still has plenty left in the tank, averaging 12.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks over the final 30 games. Playing alongside Duncan will eat into those totals, however.


Matt Bonner: Bonner saw plenty of time as a starter last season, but McDyess' arrival, coupled with the additions of DeJuan Blair and Richard Jefferson, will certainly eat away at his production. He'll likely be the third big man in the rotation, but that won't be enough to make him fantasy-worthy in most formats unless Duncan or McDyess breaks down due to injury. If he did get a chance at increased playing time, he can certainly help out in the three-pointer categories (1.5 treys per game last season).


Michael Finley: The addition of Richard Jefferson ensures that Finley will see nowhere near the 76 starts he accumulated last season. Even with all that playing time, the only category he really contributed in was three-pointers made (1.6 per game), so he'll be off most fantasy radar screens now that Jefferson is in the fold.


DeJuan Blair: Blair's lack of height (6-7) and balky knees dropped him into the second round of this year's draft, where he became a tremendous value pick for San Antonio. The height issue won't do him any favors in the shot-blocking department, but he has enough girth to battle inside and should be a valuable reserve for the Spurs in his rookie season.


Marcus Williams: Williams spent most of last season in the D-League and isn't a lock to make the roster. If he does, he'll be the third option at small forward behind Jefferson and Finley.


Marcus Haislip: Haislip was a lottery pick by the Bucks in 2002, but lasted just three unmemorable seasons in the NBA before going overseas. He wasn't especially dominant in Europe and is considered a long shot to make any type of impact in San Antonio.







Guard:





Tony Parker: Parker suffered an ankle injury playing for Team France this offseason, but he's not expected to be limited in any way once the season begins. After shouldering a big chunk of the scoring load last season, he'll have the burden lifted a bit now that Ginobili and Duncan are healthy and Jefferson is available on the wing. Though his scoring will dip a bit, his assists might increase slightly with the added weaponry around him. He'll also continue to provide an excellent field-goal percentage and has shown improvement from the free-throw line.


Manu Ginobili: Much of Ginobili's season was lost to injury last year, and he wound up missing 38 games. He's much healthier entering this season, but the additions of Jefferson and McDyess could cut into both his scoring and rebounding opportunities. He'll also probably lose playing time in the second half of the season as Popovich looks to keep all of his regulars fresh for the playoffs. Despite all the negatives, Ginobili can contribute pretty much across the board, so he remains a strong fantasy option who could have a decent bounce-back season.


Roger Mason: Mason emerged as a three-point wonder last season, connecting on 42.1 percent of his shots from behind the arc and nailing 2.0 threes per game. However, a healthy Ginobili and a newly acquired Jefferson will certainly slice into Mason's minutes this year, decreasing his value. He'll still be a nice source of threes, but he's the type of player who has more value in head-to-head leagues than roto, because he's too much of a non-factor in the other categories.


George Hill: Hill is the primary backup to Parker at point guard, but he'll also see some time off the ball when Ginobili assumes the point duties. The numbers weren't impressive last season (5.7 points, 1.8 assists, 0.6 steals), but he demonstrated enough as a rookie that he should be in line for a boost in playing time in his second year. As long as Parker is healthy, however, his fantasy value will be negligible.


Malik Hairston: Hairston spent most of last year in the D-League, but did see action with the Spurs in 15 games. He'll likely battle with Keith Bogans for the fifth guard spot.


Keith Bogans: Bogans averaged just 5.6 points and 1.0 assists last season and likely won't see much floor time with the Spurs. However, he'll probably earn a bench spot because he plays well defensively.






Sleeper:



George Hill: Hill won't be worth owning unless Parker suffers an injury, but if that happens, Hill could make a major leap in year two of his career. He had a great showing for San Antonio's summer league team and played extremely well in spurts during his rookie season. Of course, none of that will matter if Parker stays healthy, so Hill remains in the "deep sleeper" realm in seasonal leagues rather than someone you might consider drafting.



Bust:



Richard Jefferson: Jefferson got spoiled with the Bucks last season, essentially getting as many shots as he wanted when the team was without Michael Redd and desperately needed scorers. Getting a high number of attempts won't be nearly as easy in San Antonio, where Jefferson will be surrounded by much better talent than he was in Milwaukee. He should get plenty of open looks from three-point range because the defense will be forced to pay attention to the other weapons, but his scoring average is headed for a drop-off.







Article first appeared on 9/30/09